From keeping her door open through lunch every day, to opening the door to education for thousands of students in need of financial support, Director of Financial Aid Maureen McRae Goldberg offered students aid that was more than just financial, right up until her departure from the school Jan. 4.
Former Assistant Director of Financial Aid Gina Becerril now serves as the acting director of financial aid. Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Vince Cuseo said via email that he will make no definitive decisions about the future leadership of the financial aid office until the end of the academic year.
Goldberg began working for Occidental in 1998, a time when the college received approximately 2,000 first-year admission applications, 10 percent less than a decade before and a third of what it receives now, according to a 2012 Occidental Magazine article. The rate of employee turn-around was high, and Goldberg soon found herself in an office composed entirely, save the administrative assistants, of temporary staff members.
“I started in January,” Goldberg said. “We got all the financial aid packages analyzed and I remember walking out of what is now the Collins House with three of my new staff just as the sun was rising.”
The office did not miss a deadline in her 18 years at the college.
“If you’re admitted to someplace you need to know if you can afford it or not right away,” she said. “We never missed that deadline, which is something I’m very proud of.”
Goldberg’s history with financial aid dates back much further than those late nights in the Collins House. As an undergraduate student at the University of Redlands, coming from a single-parent household in San Diego, Goldberg considered withdrawing when she could not find a work-study job. When she sought help from the director of financial aid, he offered her a position to work in his office.
One rotary scholarship to earn her M.A. at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. and several financial aid office jobs later, Goldberg gained national recognition for her work in the field when she joined the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. She eventually became president of the nonprofit organization, which is composed of 900 members and works to improve access to and delivery of financial aid for students. She was a member of several other organizations as well, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and The College Board.
As the director of financial aid, Goldberg ensured that Occidental complied with all the financial aid regulations of the federal and state governments. She also managed the financial aid budget. During her time at the college, the budget grew from $12 million to $40 million, due in part to tuition hikes, and her office never exceeded the amount allotted each year. Goldberg also served on the sexual assault conduct committee and worked closely with many other offices on campus.
Her most fulfilling role has been that of a counselor. Goldberg said not only did she never close her door during the work day, but she also worked closely with students and families to provide support, both financial and emotional.
“About 25 percent of students [at Occidental] live at or below the poverty level,” she said. “And those students face not only cultural shock when they get to Oxy, but they have problems at home when they’re trying to compete at a very selective institution. The fact that we are able to help them is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been able to give.”
Aaron Hammonds (senior), who came to Occidental as a sophomore after six years serving in the United States Air Force, has been greatly affected by Goldberg’s support.
Despite knowing that the G.I. Bill would only pay for about half of Occidental’s tuition, he decided to apply. After receiving a personal email from Goldberg with a package offering enough aid to make Occidental affordable, Hammonds enrolled. Goldberg’s support, however, did not stop there.
“[Goldberg] was the only person who I knew on the entire campus,” Hammonds said. “It was a rough transition to go from the military to a place like Oxy and she was just there the entire time. Whether I needed financial aid help or whether I just wanted to let loose what was in my head, she was there.”
Hammonds was recently accepted to a Ph. D. program in sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the top program in the nation in that field according to the U.S. News and World Report.
Due to the persistence of medical issues regarding her back that inhibit her ability to commute, Goldberg will be resting at home in Santa Barbara with her husband and two children as she prepares for surgery next month. She said that she could not have parted with Occidental for any other reason.
“I bleed orange and black,” she said. “Occidental will always be the pinnacle of my career.”
Goldberg worked to sustain a policy of meeting the full, institutionally-determined financial need of admitted students. Cuseo is confident in the staff she has trained to work in her place.
Health permitting, Goldberg hopes to one day return to her work as a financial aid ambassador at another institution.
“You can’t keep a good woman down,” she said.